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Motion Analysis Helps Capture I, Robot

Motion Analysis Studios (MAS) has teamed with Digital Domain to create the seamless integration between live-action and CG elements needed for Foxs upcoming I, ROBOT (opening July 16, 2004).

The action thriller inspired by the classic short story by Isaac Asimov, in which a human detective investigates a crime believed to be committed by a robot, required a large amount of motion capture services in order to create the life-like movements and actions of the robot race. It also included the creation of a major CG character.

MAS was very dedicated and ingenious in adjusting the mocap setup to accommodate our specific needs, said John Nelson, visual effects supervisor for I ROBOT Prods. We asked for some extreme stuff and Motion Analysis got us what we needed quickly and straightforwardly. This included adjusting capture dates and dealing with large sets and camera occlusion.

The team at Motion Analysis Studios traveled to the set of the film in Vancouver to capture, track and solve data in realtime, so director Alex Proyas could easily manage the robots performance for each shot in the film. With film production, the setup time allotted between shots allows our team to streamline the data onto the character model so that production can immediately see exactly what was captured during the previous shot, said Scott Gagain, vp of project development for MAS.

In addition, the company was brought in to help create the fluidity of human motion without losing the classic robot-like stiffness needed for the robot race. To achieve this effect, Motion Analysis built a 32x32 foot stage that was 17-feet high and used 22 Motion Analysis Eagle cameras. The film's actors were trained to move like robots and the team at Motion Analysis maintained every nuance of the actors performances by using their proprietary software, MA Solver Package, which retargets the data to the CG robots and is able to drive the CG skeleton directly.

Since most of the shots were tailored for specific parts of the film, production had a video reference crew on set to mimic the camera angle from the footage shot on set months before. This was critical for creating the seamless integration between the live-action and CG elements.

The data from our system was extremely accurate and allowed us to capture the most subtle motions for the dramatic portions of the film, as well as multiple person captures for some very intense action/stunt sequences, said Jeff Swenty, head of production for Motion Analysis Studios. Most importantly, the job that we did for I, ROBOT, didn't slow down the actors or the director at all. We provided retargeted skeletal data in Maya for each robot in each scene.

The data that we received from MAS was very clean to begin with and made things much easier on our animators. Typically, animators get frustrated with motion capture and end up throwing stuff out that was shot on set, said Andy Jones, animation supervisor, Digital Domain. MAS provided seamless data which enabled our animators to focus on the subtleties of the characters motions. It saved us a ton of time on our end.

The pioneering Motion Analysis Studios (, based in Culver City, California, is dedicated to providing the 3D animation industry with the highest quality motion-capture services. The company is owned by Santa Rosa-based Motion Analysis Corp.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.